And then debt turned into something else: something called credit. Of course, from the economic point of view, every debt is a credit somewhere else, so there is a sense in which debt and credit are the same thing. Psychologically, though, the story is very different. Debt is a negative: a burden, an obligation, a drag. Credit is an opportunity, an opening, a way out, a way forward; it’s full of possibilities and potential. Debt is etymologically linked with owing; credit is linked with belief, with faith.
“The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order,” Hayek wrote, “is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form, but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”
— Steven Johnson, Future Perfect
Just before he finishes his dinner, Graeber tells me about the new idea he’s toying with. “It’s about the play principle in nature. Usually, he argues, we project agency to nature insofar as there is some kind of economic interest. Hence, for instance, Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. I begin to understand the idea better– it’s an anarchist theory of organisation starting with insects and animals and proceeding to humans. He is suggesting that, instead of being rule-following economic drones of capitalism, we are essentially playful. The most basic level of being is play rather than economics, fun rather than rules, goofing around rather than filling in forms.